Hired Guns (Third Review)


Title           Hired Guns (Third Review)
Game Type       RPG
Publisher       Psygnosis
Players         1-4 (On one Amiga)
Developer	Scott Johnston/DMA Design
Compatibility   OCS, ECS, AGA  (Extra ChipRAM used for enhanced SFX)
HD Installable  Yes
Demo		Aminet: game/demo/HiredGunsDemo.dms (706K)
Submission      Nathan Wain Profiled Reviewer

Review
BRIEF DESCRIPTION
Hired Guns isn't the easiest game to describe in a sentence.  It's a 3d
First Person Roleplaying game, in a Sci-Fi setting, with some fast-paced
combat sequences.  You and up to three other people play any four of the
twelve available mercenaries on various missions.

On a purely superficial level, it appears to be a 3d First Person game,
very much in the same vein as Dungeon Master, or Space Hulk, or even the
dungeon-sequences of the Ultima-series.  (90 degree turns only etc.)
However the arenas are far more complex and three-dimensional than in
any of the above titles.

Players are armed with a combination of modern-day and futuristic
assault weapons amongst a complex array of inventory items, and set
forth into an arena containing aggressive genetically-engineered
life-forms, and sometimes a rather complex journey to the exit-point.
(The arena can be a stand-alone mission, or a part of the full campaign,
spanning many areas and having more than one overall objective.)

AUTHOR/COMPANY INFORMATION
The game is made by DMA design, of Psygnosis.  Those legendary
programmers who's previous landmark titles were the Lemmings series.
(And just to prove it, there are Lemmings inhabiting some of the less-
serious arenas.  Though they attack just as seriously as everything
else.)

LIST PRICE
I bought it, brand new, for just over NZ$100 (US$40-50), which was a
standard price for commercial Amiga software in this country back then.

SPECIAL HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS
A parallel-port joystick adapter can be used for a third and fourth
controller, if you wish to have more than two players without resorting
to keyboard control.  (Great things if you know how to make them.) :-)

The Game Box mentions that a Hi-Fi stereo output is recommended.  This
is damn right.  Get your biggest stereo, hook it up, turn the bass way
up, and beg, borrow or steal a big-screen telly and three other mates to
sit round the Miggy and play this with.  This game sounds as good as it
plays.

COPY PROTECTION
Code-Sheet.
Red-lettering on a grey background, to prevent photocopying.  It's very
readable, unlike some Team17 blackish on black things.  Not a pain to
use at all.

A code is requested after several game-saves, thus only inconveniences
you once during the campaign.  (You'll never see it if you're only
playing the practice or single-mission arenas.)  My only minor gripe is
that the numeric keypad can't be used to enter the numbers.

MACHINES USED FOR TESTING
A500, 0.5Meg Chip, 0.5Meg Fast, Kickstart 1.2, two external Floppy
drives, Thompson RGB monitor.  (Disk swapping happens if you have
anything less than four (!) drives...  I exhumed my old A610 external
drive from the cupboard because this game was played so darned much.)

A1200, 2Meg Chip, 32Meg Fast, Kickstart 3.0, 340 Meg Seagate 2.5" HDD,
GVP Cobra accelerator-board (68030 and 68882 at 50MHz, without SCSI),
additional floppy-drive, Supra 14.4k Modem, 1942 MultiSync monitor.

A4000, 2Meg Chip, 16Meg Fast, Kickstart 3.1, 1.2 Gig Quantum HDD,
Toshiba 16x CD-Rom, additional floppy-drive, Supra 14.4k Modem, 1942
Multisync monitor.  (Standard 25MHz 68030 CPU)


INSTALLATION
Standard Commodore installer used, with a choice of several languages.
This installer uses an interesting method of choosing where to install:
You open the installers-drawer of the floppy-disk, which contains icons
for each language - English, Franšais, Deutsch, Italiano, and Espanol.
Drag the appropriate icon to the place on the hard-drive where you want
the Game-drawer to reside, and then double-click on newly-copied icon.

You have a choice of what aspects of the game you do wish to install -
for disk-space considerations.  When the install is finished, the
program is kind enough to explicitly state that no other areas of the
hard-drive have been modified - thus no unnecessary files will remain if
Hired Guns has to be deleted.  (Perish the thought.) :-)

COMPATIBILITY
The game has worked beautifully right from my A500 up to my new A4000.
The only things those with lower memory systems miss out on are some
atmospheric effects (lightening and thunder) and less variety in the
weapon sound effects - which IMHO is a crying shame once you've heard
how damn cool the grenade launcher can sound.  (Remember that big stereo
bit?)

Two minor irritations are that the high-res interlace menu-screens seem
to have a timing problem on the A4000 (Only showing one of the two
interlace frames, thus making the graphics look not *quite* so high-res
as they should be.) Not a biggie though, all the fonts are damned large
and pretty, so still quite readable.  (The game itself uses a non-
interlace screenmode, so it's unaffected by this.)

Also the game uses an NTSC size screen, and just uses a pretty blue
copper effect and a "Hired Guns" logo to fill the space at the bottom of
a PAL screen.  But I want to use the *whole* screen thankyouverymuch. :)
I usually use TUDE to try to force games to use NTSC screenmodes.
Unfortunately HG is never fooled by this for long, and reverts back to a
PAL mode eventually - I wish I knew why.  Seems I can only fool it by
using the NTSC option in the early-startup menu...  So I have to do a
reset first.  (PAL users might like to know this.)

DOCUMENTATION
Code sheet and four booklets: "Amiga Instructions", "Game Manual", "The
Luyten System", and "Countdown to Graveyard."  First two items giving
quite comprehensive details on how to play, the third giving much
superfluous (but interesting) background information on the solar
system, the inhabitants of the planet, and most of the objects that will
be encountered in the game - the details on game-objects are quite
useful and relevant to the game though.  "Countdown to Graveyard" is a
novella which tells of the story leading to the game, and has background
histories of each of the 12 mercenaries.

While the documentation is replete with information, much of it is
rather verbose and lacks relevance to the actual game.  This is fine by
me, I love to get extra background information.  But there are some
things I would've liked to be documented that weren't.  The main one
being a summary of the mercenaries and their inventories.  On the single-
player missions a character's initial inventory is often of greatest
importance, since weapons and more ammunition are often scarce.
Conversely, this is not a problem in the full campaign, where it is
often the best tactic to choose characters with the best physical stats.
New players are often at a loss as to what character is a good one to
try, and the details given on the select screen do little to help.

(After having the game for a few weeks I grew sick of this problem and
created a stats-sheet summarising this information for all 12
mercenaries from the info available from the in-game statistics and
inventory screens.)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I'll never forget my first impressions - handed a joystick as I enter a
room where three other Miggy friends are huddled around a monitor with
some rather flashy 3d graphics on screen.  Given absolutely *no* help
with the controls (which are rather complex in joystick-mode.)  My first
fumbled attempts with the inventory get my character (Cheule) holding
something.  A bit more fumbling, "How do I shoot?", fumble fumble *BOOM*
as myself and two of my counterparts are instantly killed, the other
character, barely alive, but the rest of us too busy creasing ourselves
with laughter to care.  (grin)

Initially, finding your way around open spaces is difficult.  These 3d
games where you can only turn in 90 degree steps are a little confusing.
More so when the arenas have few distinguishing landmarks.  The overhead
map can also a little unhelpful for the uninitiated, but once you get
used to the big jumps in view it's a lot better.

Personally, I feel the first few steps into learning to play are a
little tricky.  But when one considers that the viewpoint, controls and
overall game are (necessarily) on the complex side, and many people will
have never played a game quite like this.  ...It becomes apparent that
this isn't entirely the fault of games implementation.  Besides, this
game isn't exactly designed as a quick blast anyway.  So these issues
are probably rather trivial in the longer term.

GAMEPLAY
You have a choice of Joystick, Multi-button Joypad, or Mouse - game ports
three and four can only support Joystick.  Mouse is the one that is most
intuitive for people to use, but after some practice I found I much
preferred the good old single-button stick.  I can flick around the
options quicker, and with less mistakes than the mouse.  Too many times
a character has been badly wounded (and thus their equipment also
damaged) because someone using mouse shot when they meant to move.

Whether you have one, two, three or four human players, you have control
of three or four mercenaries.  Control of multiple characters is made
easier by an option to make everyone auto-follow the active character.  A
single human player would control all four characters, two players control
two each, and if you are fortunate enough to have three or four players
then you each have your own mercenary, and the action *really* hots-up. :-)

The  screen  is  thus  always  separated  into three or four views.  The 3d
nature of the game means this isn't particularly restrictive.  (Makes a big
screen  telly  a  great  asset  tho.) Each view can either show one of four
windows:   The  main  3d  view,  the  inventory, the DTS (Map) view, or the
character stats (never particularly useful, but pretty.) :) These views are
easily  accessed through the mouse by clicking on window-tabs at the top of
the  screen.   A  simple but very effective GUI.  Navigation with the stick
is,  suprisingly,  just  as  easy - hold down the button and move the stick
left or right.

The variety of usable items encountered is huge.  Weapons of every
description: Pistols, Shotguns, Assault-Rifles, Lasers, Stun-guns,
Grenade Launchers, Grenades, Land-Mines, Flame-Throwers and Automated
Sentries.  Several classes of Ammunition for them as well as food,
medi-kits, droid-repair kits, keys, key-cards and huge pushable blocks
serve to make the game environment beautifully varied.  Some items are
susceptible to fire and/or water damage, making you have to be careful
who carries what.  For example: The robots are great underwater, since
they don't have to breathe, but there's not much point giving them one
of the beautifully destructive laser weapons - water destroys those in
a few seconds.

A computerised database system, called "Guild VII" is used to give you
information on any unfamiliar items you might find.  Including some
rather funny inscriptions on weapons, and more useful info on the
function of the more obscure items - including a rather lethal banana
(!) I once found, and Psi-Amps.

Being of the Sci-Fi genre, magical powers aren't really an appropriate
thing to have.  What the authors have done instead is introduce a
mysterious class of item of alien origin: the "Psi-Amp"  They can do
virtually anything, from the mundane heal-wounds and cure-poison to
teleporting, creating food, shields, ability to breathe underwater, or
various destructive powers etc.  Psi-Amps have a limited number of uses,
and will disappear once exhausted.

GENERAL OPINION
This is one kick-ass game.  It's brilliant.  It plays, looks and sounds
brilliant, and is still the only multiplayer-on-one-amiga game that has
some depth to it.  If you can get others around to play it, you'll get a
huge amount of fun from this game for a very very long time.  If not,
you're still going to have a lot of fun with it.

The whole thing has a very "Aliens" feel to it, even though none of the
enemy creatures resemble them.  Maybe it's the occasional comment the
characters make, or the cool assault rifle that Cheule has that sounds
exactly like a pulse-rifle.  Mostly it's probably the way the creatures
all emerge out of pods (the sound of them opening is digitised from
Aliens, I'm sure) and some creatures kill you so darned quickly if they
get close enough to you.  Overall it creates the same great eerie
atmosphere.

Running around, trying to find the way out, and killing anything that
moves with extreme prejudice makes for such a great game.  The variety
and complexity of the mission-arenas, combined with the fun of the kill
and the sheer panic when things go wrong make this just the most
atmospheric thing I've ever played on the Miggy.  And the greatest thing
is that it plays just as well on *all* Amigas.

LIKES
The sound of the grenade launcher up loud.  Hell, the sound of all of
the weapons really.  And the screams of the female characters when they
die.  >:-)

The little scrolly-messages that move along the middle of the screen.
(Usually things the characters are saying.)  Often they have no bearing
on the game, but they're entertaining.  "I say we take off and nuke this
site from orbit." :-)

The missions inhabited by Lemmings.  Killing lemmings has always been so
much fun.

The multiplayer options are brilliant.  The game really excels here.

A nice touch for those forced to play it from floppies:  (Are there
still any of you guy's around?)  When it is loading from a disk, it also
tells you the *next* disk is it's going to need.  So if you have more
than one drive there are no disk-swap delays at all!  Cool eh?

DISLIKES AND SUGGESTIONS
The inventory is one-dimensional, and sequential.  It's a chore to
navigate when you are controlling four characters carrying lots of
items.  Smaller, less-flashy icons, and a two-dimensional grid of items
would make the inventory much, much easier to use IMHO.

Also only one item can be placed on the ground at any one spot.  This
makes swapping items between characters a chore also.  I realise, from a
programming point of view, why this was done, but with the large number
of inventory items, it still gets to be damned annoying.  Being able to
give items directly to other players would have got around this.

The time-limit on the practice and short-mission arenas: While it does
add urgency to some of them, it can be rather short and annoying when
we're trying to train up novice players, or to complete a mission that's
always been troublesome.  Or when trying a multiplayer mission with only
one human player.  I would *love* to be able to turn off the time limit.
(If anyone knows of a patch for that, please tell me.)

Not being able to control multiple characters with the Joystick.  I'd
prefer to use the stick, and I can think of a movement combo that'd work
well to switch characters.  It's annoying that the fire-left in the
movement screen isn't used either.  I'd rather be able to cycle through
the windows in a continuous loop.  Oh well...  guess I'll just have to
program my own clone. :-)

A bit pedantic, but:  The robots leave behind a bloody skeleton when
they die.  Would it have been so difficult to make one little dead-robot
graphic?

COMPARISON TO OTHER SIMILAR PRODUCTS
To look at it, people might think it's Dungeon Master in a Sci-Fi
setting.  To that I have to say I *hate* Dungeon Master.  This game is
gorgeous though.  Hopefully it doesn't work like that the other way...
I think a lot of HG's element would appeal to DM fans.  ...I can't pick
what it is I don't like about DM.  It's environment just seems too bland
to me.  HG immerses you.

Because you walk around in a 3d environment and kill things, people
think it's like Doom/Wolf/AB3d/Gloom/Quake etc etc...  It ain't.  If it
were, I'm sure I'd be playing those games much more, because most of
them have a 3d-viewpoint that is more sophisticated.  As it is, I do
have most of the above games on my Amiga - they sit in the "Doom clone"
drawer of my Games partition.  HG sits in the "Strategy" drawer, amongst
UFO, Settlers and other stuff.  HG makes you think much more than any 3d
shooter on the Amiga.  Some of the missions make this obvious -
painfully so if you try to just walk in shooting.

HG seems to have a lot of similarity to Space Hulk.  But I never got to
see much of Space Hulk, so I can't really comment much.  HG seems to
have much more graphic variety and 3-dimensionality to the game-maps.
Space Hulk just felt like a poor-mans Hired Guns, so it never appealed
to me.  (I could be wrong though.)  And although you could control six
characters in Hulk, it didn't have any multiplayer options.

BUGS
There are mistakes on the code-sheet!!!!  (Very few, but still...)
This is bad, bad, bad...  I'm penalised for buying the original rather
than just getting the pirate copy I first saw.  This annoys the hell out
of me...  Fortunately the Amiga Patch List allows one to remove the code
check.  Playing the game is more enjoyable now - I don't have to worry
that the game won't be happy with the value I enter from my *genuine*
code sheet.  (A bit of a ridiculous situation when you think about it.)

The background sounds are not restored correctly when you load a saved
game.  (They are *never* restored correctly, unless it's the same world
you were on before you loaded it.)  If you save a game when in the water,
the water sound will not be there when you re-load it either.  But worse,
the water sound will start when you *leave* the water.  ...Fortunately
these don't affect the game, they're just annoying.  But they've made me
save my games at the end of the levels, rather than the beginning of the
next one, to make sure all sounds are correct when the new level loads.

I don't think these bugs are acceptable in a major title like this.
With some methodical playtesting, the saved-game bugs should've been
found.  The code sheet should *always* be carefully verified.

While I'm complaining, about the documentation:  Their layout is
atrocious.  Also there are layout and spelling mistakes, one of the
characters pictures is missing in the mercenary-file, and some of the
illustrations are obviously JPEG's that have been compressed far too
much for publishing and scaled without interpolation.  (The artifacts of
the JPEG compression are obvious in places - now that I know a lot more
about graphics I know why, and I know I could've done a far better final
printed image given the same low-quality JPEG.)

In the earlier issue of the manuals (which I saw when I hired the game
initially), all of the quote characters (") were omitted - most
difficult to tell when someone was speaking in the Novella.

...I really don't expect to see these kind of things in a major title
such as this.  Any half-hearted attempt at proof-reading should've
stopped most of these mistakes from getting through.  And if they can't
be bothered, then *please* don't put text on the title screen that says
"This Game, including its graphics sound and documentation were entirely
programmed and produced on Commodore Amiga Computers."  It's
embarrassing.

VENDOR SUPPORT
They've moved to fairer waters these days.  But you wouldn't be expecting
any Amiga stuff from them now anyway, eh?

WARRANTY
Dunno.  If there was something in the documentation that mentioned it,
I've lost it since.

CONCLUSIONS
Damn nice game.  Will keep you occupied for ages.  Especially if you can
get some friends over for the multiplayer games.  (Oh, but not if you
can't stop them killing each other after someone accidently shoots
someone else.) :-)

If you are playing it on your own, it should still have plenty of
lastability.  (Moreso if you want to go to http://www.tincan.demon.co.uk
and get hold of the Hired Guns level editor.  I have it, but haven't
made time to try it yet.)  Y'see, I haven't completed the campaign after
all these years, so I still have much to see and do. :-)

I'm glad that none of the things that slipped by the quality control
have a direct affect on the gameplay.  If any of them did, this game
would not be judged so highly by me.




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